Do you remember the last time you pulled a muscle and couldn’t move? Fibromyalgia is more complex than that. Extreme muscle pain and pain in the body’s soft tissues are characteristic of fibromyalgia. People who live with fibromyalgia are often in constant physical pain, and aside from this physical pain, the mental health effects of fibromyalgia are severe.
Depression, anxiety, and loss of self-confidence, among several other psychological effects, have become the reality that fibromyalgia patients have to deal with daily. How do you cope with this? How do you cope with these incapacitating effects of fibromyalgia?
I’ll take you through a brief look at fibromyalgia, the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, the mental effects, and eventually share tips on how you can cope with these mental health effects.
Definition of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a chronic condition that causes severe widespread musculoskeletal pain, usually accompanied by other symptoms like fatigue, memory, and mood issues. The pain experienced with fibromyalgia is said to be due to the amplification of pain sensations through the body as a result of an alteration in the way the brain and spinal cord process painful and non-painful signals.
It is estimated that 10 million Americans live with fibromyalgia, and women are more prone to be diagnosed with FMS than men, although it can affect any age and gender.
Causes and Symptoms
There is no exact verified cause of fibromyalgia. However, it is established that an increase in the level of pain-signaling chemicals due to constant nerve stimulation results in excessive pain experienced.
With no verified cause for the disease, there are only likely factors that scientists have concluded to be the reason for the changes experienced by the brain. These factors include:
- Genetics: Fibromyalgia can run in the family due to genetic mutations. If one of your parents or family has a history of FMS, you will likely develop it.
- Infection: Certain illnesses have been said to trigger FMS.
- Traumatic events: Painful or shocking events, Post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) can also trigger FMS.
- Other disorders: If you have other diagnosed conditions like lupus or osteoarthritis, there is an increased likelihood of developing FMS.
In 2019, there were three International Diagnostic Criteria for fibromyalgia which includes:
- A history of pain in 6 of the 9 general areas for at least three months.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Chronic fatigue.
Your doctor might think beyond these criteria and consider other symptoms such as brain fog, widespread pain in fibromyalgia tender points, headaches, depression, temporomandibular joint disorders, anxiety, and even stomach cramps.
Mental health effects of fibromyalgia
The mental health effects of fibromyalgia occur almost hand-in-hand with the physical symptoms and can also become the conclusive symptom for the doctor’s diagnosis. These mental health disorders are also said to be known precursors to FMS.
Here are some of the mental effects of fibromyalgia:
Also referred to as Fibro Fog, it describes a situation where the person loses focus, is unable to concentrate, loses memory (often short-term), and sometimes experiences a depressed mood.
Most people diagnosed with fibromyalgia have been said to experience constant anxiety due to physical symptoms. They get anxious about daily activities, sleep, and meeting new people.
Depression is common in people diagnosed with any chronic illness but might be more common among people with fibromyalgia as a normal touch can result in extreme pain. The uncertainties in medication, lack of understanding of the condition, and lack of support coupled with the physical symptoms increase depression.
Constantly doubting oneself, competence, and ability to become successful is common among people with chronic illnesses. Even when you achieve something you deserve, there is constant self-doubt and an inability to perceive yourself as ‘enough.’
Unable to get people to understand the severity of an ‘invisible’ diseased condition, lack of trust from close friends and family, and inability to participate in joint physical activities can result in self-isolation.
Sleep disturbances are characteristic of fibromyalgia, and insomnia is the most typical type of sleep disturbance experienced with FMS.
Ways to cope with mental health effects of fibromyalgia
Though living with fibromyalgia is very tough, there are several ways you can adapt to cope with these mental health effects, even if it is not part of the ones mentioned.
1. Mind exercise
Mind exercise involves trying to exercise and calm the mind through deep breathing and meditation. It is good for your mind and body because these exercises affect your tolerance levels and can help you be more positive about your condition. Ultimately, mental exercises can help you reduce anxiety and depression, reduce memory loss and improve positive thinking.
2. Safe physical exercises
You and your doctor can decide which physical exercises are safe for you and how often you can do them because increased stress levels can also trigger fibromyalgia, and you don’t want that.
You might have to stick to light exercises; consistently doing them will help manage the symptoms and improve your overall well-being.
It might not be easy, but you must also learn to manage yourself and your symptoms more appropriately. You can also work closely with your doctor to decide on the best form of treatment for yourself. Also, you can practice self-advocacy (“why and how to be a self-care advocate”) with your doctor and at work (advocate for yourself in the workplace).
Socializing doesn’t have to be on a large scale as well, and it is to enable you to interact with friends and loved ones to reduce the feelings of depression and prevent self-isolation. Getting around people and breathing in the fresh air can make you feel good and motivated.
5. Positive affirmations
Practice positive affirmations to help you deal with the negativity of a chronic illness diagnosis. These affirmations will help you become more intentional toward your self-management, reduce feelings of self-doubt, and strengthen your mind.
6. Reduce stress
If there are still some habits you engage in that are pretty stressful, it will be advantageous for you to let them go or find an alternative. If it relates to your work or business, there are several ways you can use to manage your career without compromising your health.
7. Find a community
Having a reliable community that enables you to express yourself without the fear of misunderstanding or judgment can do well in helping you cope with these mental effects. Find a community that is specific to your condition, and be free to share your feelings, fears, and expectations.
If it all gets too much for you, don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a certified therapist. You can be able to work out a more effective path to help you overcome the mental strain you are going through. Seeking therapy is not a form of weakness because it takes a lot of effort.
One mistake you cannot afford to make when dealing with a chronic illness is to undermine the mental effects of that disease. For people dealing with fibromyalgia, the mental effects are often similar and can include anxiety, isolation, and imposter syndrome.
You can use several ways and healthy habits to cope with the mental effects of fibromyalgia. The first thing is understanding the disease in-depth and knowing your body’s limits. All other coping mechanisms come after this.
Whatever action you decide to take to cope with these effects, if they don’t work as you expect, don’t be ashamed or scared to talk with a therapist. It is not shameful; finding a therapist who fully understands your condition goes a long way.
How has coping with fibromyalgia been? Do you think people have an understanding of these effects? What is your most effective coping mechanism?